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Published: 1st MARCH 2023

Lack of planning guidance prevents access to walking and cycling facilities

Professor Sir Michael Marmot and seven other health experts, along with two former planning ministers, have written to the Housing Secretary calling on him not to ignore health inequality in the Levelling Up Bill.

Access to walking, wheeling and cycling facilities has benefits for health and the economy. Image credit: Brian Morrison/ߣߣƵ

Professor Sir Michael Marmot and seven other health and planning experts have written to the Housing Secretary calling on him not to ignore health inequality in the Levelling Up Bill.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must include specific objectives that require authorities to put health and well-being at the centre of their decision-making processes.

Why is this so important?

Where you live has a significant impact on your health.

For example, men in the most deprived areas of England have on average 18 fewer years in ‘good’ health than men living in the least deprived areas, while for women this is 20 years.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must address this and provide regulations to improve the places we live - creating healthier and happier lives.

ߣߣƵ research found that 64% of planning officers cited ‘lack of robust planning guidance or regulation’ prevented them from ensuring facilities were within walking, wheeling or cycling distance.

Currently, one in three people in England, mainly in economically deprived communities, do not have access to a green space within 15 minutes’ walk of home.

Access to walking, wheeling and cycling facilities has benefits for the economy and healthcare:

  • In 2021, walking, wheeling and cycling prevented 24,576 serious long-term health conditions in the UK.
  • Current green space provision results in estimated savings for the NHS of at least £100 million a year from fewer GP visits.
Two cyclists in a protected cycle lane

Building happier, healthier communities must be at the heart of planning. Image copyright: John Linton 2018

What are we calling for?

We support Simon Stevens, former CEO of the NHS, in tabling an amendment that there should be a specific objective for local authorities to reduce health inequalities and improve people’s well-being when making planning decisions.

This would also require local authorities to include policies to meet this objective in their development plans.

Local Planning Authorities would have to:

  • plan for amenities such as shops, schools and green spaces to be within walking distance of where people live
  • create opportunities to increase everyday physical activity such as walking, wheeling or cycling
  • increase access to high-quality natural spaces.

To tackle the vast health inequalities we face, we need to put the power in the hands of those who understand their areas best: local councils.

The Government must produce a clear statutory duty that shows that they support local planners to do what’s necessary, so they can address the most pressing health and well-being needs in their areas.

Download our suggested amendment (PDF)

What does the letter say?

In the letter, Professor Sir Michael Marmot and others say:

"Our planning system is a key lever to improve the built and natural environment and one of the main tools to support the levelling up of health.

"However, new developments which do not get the basics right are still getting built.

"The first duty of Government – and prime purpose of the planning system – should be to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people it serves.

"Adding this clause would therefore complete this landmark Bill’s aim to align local planning authorities and national Government better, to help people live happier, healthier lives."

Download the letter to the Housing Secretary (PDF)

Happier, healthier communities must be at the heart of planning

Xavier Brice, CEO of ߣߣƵ, said:

"ߣߣƵ completely agrees with Professor Sir Michael Marmot and these seven other health and planning experts that it isn’t right that where you live determines how long, healthy and happy your life is.

"Together with them and the Better Planning Coalition, we call on the Government to create objectives for Local Planning Authorities to improve health and well-being in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, something that is desperately needed.

"Adding the clause will make it easier to build mixed-use walkable neighbourhoods that provide essential amenities within walking distance, increase opportunities for everyday physical activity, reduce car dependency and broaden access to high-quality natural spaces.

"As highlighted in the 2010 Marmot Review Fairer Society, Healthy Lives, there is a vital link between where we live and outcomes for our health.

"Building happier, healthier communities should be the priority at the heart of planning."

Read about our calls for spatial planning reform

See how active travel and placemaking can help tackle the housing crisis

Read more opinion pieces from the UK

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